This is a continuation of last month’s column, in which I recommended Dirac, a program that’s a superb way to get better sound from a computer-based audio system. I concluded that article by swearing, hand on heart, that until something better comes along, I will use Dirac. That settled, all we now need is some way to convert digital signals to analog, and some powered speakers.
I use Digidesign’s RM2 active speakers, a transmission-line design; each RM2 has two amps, a fine DAC, and drivers designed and built by PMC. Digidesign has been swallowed by another company and no longer makes the RM2, but if you want something similar, check out PMC’s AML-2. But this month, I focus on DACs.
Jeff Fritz, editor-in-chief of the SoundStage! Network, writes the monthly “Opinion” at UltraAudio.com. One of the things I like about Jeff’s column is that he regularly sticks his neck out by listing what he would actually buy. Last month, without having planned to, both of us focused on the digital devices we use with our computers. In his column, “What I’d Buy: Digital Source Components,” Jeff offers a cogent list of exceptional products and makes a strong case for each.
Here, I recommend something completely different: Go pro.
Surely all of our knowledgeable readers will know that the name Dirac is intimately connected with Nobel-winning physicist Paul Dirac and the experiment whose acronym spells his name: the DImeson Relativistic Atom Complex. As explained at http://dirac.web.cern.ch, the DIRAC experiment uses “a precise magnetic double arm spectrometer, installed in the high intensity proton beam of the CERN Proton Synchrotron,” to simultaneously “measure the lifetime of [π−π+] atoms . . . to observe [π−K+] & [π+K−] atoms . . . and then to measure the [πK] atom lifetime.”
Still with me?
I don’t understand any of that either, but apparently folks who are into quantum mechanics and quantum field theory fully understand Dirac’s incredible gifts as a theoretical physicist and the vast usefulness of his vita opus: the singular delta function. I dropped Physics 101 to avoid a failing grade, so none of this makes sense to me. My field was psychology, and what all this scientific talk means to me is that the guys who named their product after Professor Dirac have giant cojones. That’s a clinical term for folks who dream big.
I’m in the market for a new car. While I’d prefer to buy American, I’m open to anything. My father, other than a dalliance with catfish-styled Citroëns, was a devoted and stalwart Chrysler man. That meant no drama when new-car time came around: Just head to the old Chrysler dealer and order up a big car in his favorite color.
I have no brand dedication. Whatever appeals, I buy. Over the years, I’ve owned cars and trucks from Fiat, Volvo, Porsche, VW, Nissan, Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Cadillac, and several more I can’t remember. Some have been money-sucking turkeys (the Mercedes and VW Rabbit, both diesels), and others have been unexpected delights (two VW Karmann Ghias, both of which I sold for more than I’d paid).
But every time I buy a car, I look for a few specific characteristics. (My criteria probably differ from yours, but that’s why they make so many models.) It has to have comfortable seats and a reputation for reliability, and it has to be built for what I need. Sometimes we need a Dodge Ram pickup for duties on our little ranch, sometimes all I need is something to get me from one place to another. A few years ago, I wanted something with a little zoom, but the Porsches cured me of that. Or at least so I thought. Lately, I find the Chrysler Hemi to be kind of interesting. Finally, the car must have room for a subwoofer.
I bring all this up because, when it comes to video projectors, I’m close to becoming just like my father. In my case, the default brand is JVC. It’s not that I wouldn’t default to diversity in a heartbeat if something better came along -- it’s that nothing better ever does.
Oppo Digital has mastered the fine art of juxtaposition, steering a perfect course between value and luxury. Oppo products are bulletproof, yet, at any hint of a problem, customers gain immediate entrée to one of the best tech-support departments in all of consumer electronics. Perhaps best of all, despite the fact that their products come to market designed with exceptional intelligence and fully formed, the engineering staff never stops soliciting feedback from their dedicated clientele. They then use that feedback to make something remarkable even better. Their payoff is a reputation that’s at the pinnacle of the home-theater business.
So when a new box shows up from Oppo, I feel something similar to what my wife feels when she receives a nice blue box from Tiffany’s. The BDP-103 itself is jewel-like, and its packaging is better than that of many electronic devices costing five times its price of $499 USD. Everything is safely secured in place. Instead of the normal plastic bag stuffed with shoddy penny-ante stuff aimed at getting you by until you can go to Best Buy, Oppo includes a good-quality, three-pronged detachable power cord, a 2m HDMI 1.4 cable, a 4.5’ USB extension cable, a USB Wireless-N adapter, a well-thought-out remote control, and a 92-page manual evidently written by someone whose first language was English. Before you’ve even installed the BDP-103, you know you’re in the presence of something special.
Christmas has rolled around again, and it’s time to start putting together a wish list to leave in a conspicuous place to make sure your family and friends know what you really want. Over the past year I’ve been able to get my hands on an immoderate amount of great gear, beautiful music, and mesmerizing films. Now it’s time to put out a list of my picks for the top Christmas gifts. The list is also, by definition, a list of my favorite items of 2012. My wife used to force me to watch one episode per year of Oprah, and that was her "Favorite Things." The trick was, the audience got everything on her list. Would that I could do that for you, dear reader. Unfortunately, all I can do is direct you to a few items that may warrant your attention.
By placing a product in this list, I might as well be anointing it one of my Best of the Year products. Nothing goes on the Christmas list unless it’s the best of what I tested. However, given the economy, I decided on a price ceiling of $400. That puts a couple of receivers, the NAD T 787 and the Onkyo TX-NR5010, out of the race, but it gives me the space to include a set of headphones I’ve fallen in love with. And other than the very first item, this list is not in order of preference.